Alan Mannus makes Northern Ireland chance count

Northern Ireland's Alan Mannus
Northern Ireland's Alan Mannus

Alan Mannus was one of the few bright lights to be switched on during Northern Ireland’s flat display against Malta on Wednesday night.

His classy stop against captain Michael Mifsud made Malta think twice before attacking Northern Ireland’s strong defensive five and his broad, physical presence has been missed.

He is not a revelation - he’s been a shadow in the squad for almost a decade since making his senior debut against Trinidad and Tobago in 2004.

Standing at 6’2” in his flip-flops, the St Johnstone custodian is a constant of international away trips, one who could always be depended on to answer his country’s call.

Mannus, however, does not believe his dedication to Northern Ireland was rewarded this week, rather more that he was a benefitting party of circumstance following Roy Carroll’s virus.

“Personally I was happy to be given the chance to start and of course play the full game. I wasn’t really tested to be honest, I don’t think I had lots to do but what I did do, I thought I did well.

“But I don’t think it was a reward for loyalty. Michael [O’Neill] hasn’t really said anything to me about the loyalty. Nobody has ever really said anything to me about it, I just do it.

“I have been in and out of the squad over the last ten years. I think I’ve sat on the bench and in the stands more than any other player in the squad over the last decade so it’s great to have the chance to finally play.”

Mannus emerged after the game with the same neutral expression he often wears on away trips.

Perhaps it was a responsibly grounded reaction after a generally poor team performance.

Perhaps he knows there’s nothing by way of a record of his contribution to the overall team, expended over his four senior appearances.

While there’s no question over how he is a valuable option for manager O’Neill - and is fully backed by his club and national goalkeeping coach Tommy Wright - he knows that when Carroll returns to fitness, he will be chasing the jersey once again.

“There are other keepers available for Northern Ireland, besides just Lee Camp and Roy Carroll,” he said.

“I definitely feel I am ready for it, but there are other options.

“I feel I am ready, I am playing at the highest level I’ve played at and I’ve had the chance to play in big games like at Celtic where you have 50,000 people at matches.”